Skip to main content

tv   Tech Know  Al Jazeera America  May 3, 2014 7:30pm-8:01pm EDT

7:30 pm
hard hitting... ground breaking... truth seeking... >> they don't wanna show what's really going on... >> award winning, investigative, documentary series. children at work only on al jazeera america phil to >> this is "techknow," a show of invo vasions that can save lives, we'll explore the intersection of hart ware and huge -- hardware and humanity. let's check out the team. marita davison is specialising in ecology. tonight, what are the scientists at monsanta up to. we go into their lab. are they moving away from genetically modified crops. dr crystal dilworth is a molecular science and cara santa
7:31 pm
maria has a bank ground in science. i'm phil torres, an endometeorologist. tonight spiders and goats - and how we may hannes spider -- harness spider silk. that's the team, let's do some science. [ ♪ music ] hey guys, welcome to "techknow." what does the bulletproof vest have to do with goat's milk. the answer lies in spider silk -
7:32 pm
of all things. i got a chance to look at the future of fabrics. it is fascinating. let's take a look. >> reporter: they are nature's masterful architects, genius at structural design. their silk - though just a fraction of the size of a human hair, is stronger than steel and more powerful than tevlar. you have called spider silk the ancient biomaterial for the future. what do you mean by that? >> spiders have been around for roughly 600 billion years. it has properties that no manmade properties have. >> what can you use it for? >> medical products, car tyres, bike tyres - looking at it for air bags. >> how do you get from a single strand of spider silk to a worldwide web of synthetic group. a good place to start at at the
7:33 pm
spider lab at the university of california in cheryl hayashi's lab. >> we are historians of the spider geno. we are trying to figure out the blueprints for making the silk. you have a transformation from liquid inside the spider's body and outside it's significantly a solid fibre. >> we'll set up a manual silking of the spider. >> yes, this is a western black widow. >> first, we stun the spider with carbon dioxide and tape her down ghently. >> this goes across. >> the top of the hour glass. now we are ready for silking. >> this is the set up to get the silk out. >> yes. it's simple. >> the black widow produces several different types of silk. it's the drag line, the threat used to drop and dangle that is the most flexible. >> it's amazing, you can see the
7:34 pm
silk as it comes out. >> that's the drag line coming out. >> we know that, why? >> i can see the dpiing ots, the -- spigots, and the drag line silk has a distinctive spigot. can you see that. >> absolutely. >> if we are lucky we can get 100 metres of that. >> how long will it take her to replenish that? >> a good meal. >> a good cricket. here we got silk out of the spider. why can't we harvest it? >> spiders are small and predatory, not good to farm, it would be like farming tigers. >> isolating the gene that produces the spider silk wag the first step to moss producing it in -- mass producing it in the lab. the next step, taking the d.n.a. and inserting it into a host organism. that's what brought us here.
7:35 pm
>> while spiders have been making silk for 400 years. professor ranked louis -- randy louis has been at it for 15. >> we use the genes that the spider silk uses it, we moved them in backtear why, alfalfa, goats. >> take me through the process of how you get a spider gene into something like a goat. >> we cut and supplies from other people's work, put it together with the new genes. >> the goats whose embryos were injected hang here at this barn in wellsville utah. >> we wanted to make it in the mill, only when lack tating. these are spider goats. when you do genetic manipulation goats are better than sheep and cattle in terms of milk production. they are as good as cows. >> and the final reason to use
7:36 pm
goats? >> you can't argue that baby goats are such as cute as any animal out there. >> they are. hello guys. don't bite the beard, you're going down. i couldn't leave without milking. i am milking a goat right now. what do you think? >> i think you probably should quit your day job. >> i understand people have ethical concerns when it comes to transgenic organisms. >> if you look at behaviour and physiology, it's the same as any goat. except for the fact in their milk there's a protein. >> they are not shooting webs from the wrist. >> no, they can't walk on the ceiling. >> the goat milk heads to the larks the silk pro -- lab. the sil protein is stripped from other proteins. what happens is the liquid comes
7:37 pm
out. the spider silk is on the ideas. that's what we have, concentrated spider silk. >> it's a relatively simple process. >> the problem is it's time cop assuming. it takes pretty much a full day. we centrifuge it, transfer it from the tube and freeze dry it. >> it's pure spider silk protein from goat's milk. >> there's about 30 grams, three weeks of collection. >> how much spider silk could you make? >> 300,000 metres. >> what if you tried to make a product out of this. >> a full-size shirt, probably about 300. >> if only it was that easy. it needs to be mixed into a liquid before being loaded into
7:38 pm
the spinning machine that makes the threat. the one from a liquid to a solid like a real spider. >> this is a relatively unique way to do it. we have 28,000 volts going across here. if you look carefully at the top, you see it starting to move. the spiders are small. they are anywhere from 1 hns to 500 diameter of your hair. we cut a strip, that's the strip there. you can take the strip and twist it and make a fibre. so this material at the moment is only about a quarter strong as real natural spider silk. >> if i stretch this, how strong is it? >> almost as strong as steel. >> it's not ready for mass production, not even with nature's mass producer, the silk worm. >> we transfer the gene from the spider silk protein. >> this is not normal silk. >> it's not. it's about 50% stronger than
7:39 pm
standard silk. >> what percentage of this is spider silk? >> only about 5%. >> despite the slow progress, professor louis says the promise is words the effort. >> we are looking at artificial limbs. >> something like this could go in a human body. >> exactly. we are looking at something for an achilles tendon repair. you have a little bit of stretch, not much. it holds 800 pounds. 50% more than the maximum you have on an achilles. >> where would you like to see the industry head. >> prototypes, so someone can test and say "yes, it's better than anything we have. >> i worked with spieders, and how they use the webs. i was so excited to work on a
7:40 pm
bees showing how humans use the westbounds. >> are there other benefits. one thing that stands out is that it's basically invisible to the human body. the um un system is -- immune system is prone for a lot of things we put in our body. with this, it doesn't react. they are looking at it for tennedons, suchers and all sorts of things because the body doesn't reject it. >> do they know why? our immune system is designed to recognise other agents. >> yes. i think there's so much work to be done. plenty of people are trying to create the things, there's not a lot looking at questions of that, on this tiny scale, what is it that the immune system doesn't respond to. there could be huge opportunities with that alone. my other favourite part of the shoot was working with the baby goats. they were pretty adorable. i couldn't help but take a bunch of pictures with them.
7:41 pm
if you want to see more photos on the field follow us on instagram and tumbler. >> so cool. >> it was a lot of fun to work on. i'll bring you guys back spieders next time. >> marita davison, what do you have next? >> i wept looking for a better vegetable. i did it in monsanta, a lightening rod for controversy. we got a first-hand look and i'll tell you about it after the black. >> we want to hear what you think about these stories. join the conversation:
7:42 pm
7:43 pm
[ ♪ music ] hey, guy, welcome back to
7:44 pm
"techknow." you went to visit monsanta, which tend to be prone to controversy, whether it warrants it or not. you looked at a new branch of their research. tell me about it. >> as you know monsanta gets a lot of controversy around genetically changed work they are doing. fruits and vegies that are more reliable in terms of yield have greater shelf life and taste better and are more nutritious. they are doing that using cross breeding, with the help of technology. let's check it out. >> reporter: mini bell peppers, perfect for one. beefed up broccoli, and lettuce with the crunch of iceberg and the nutrients. all created by monsanta, and some could already be in a grocery store near you. >> everybody wants a nice red water melon with a high level of
7:45 pm
sugar. >> this is a water melon breeder, working on the perfect melon for the fruit market. >> we are looking for higher shelf life, something that doesn't have a lot of juice when you cut it into pieces. >> why the trades? >> we are trying to get a water melon. >> he's trying to create a vegey that is more nutritious and tastier and resistant to disease and the hazards of shipping. the scientists are not genetically modifying plants to get what they want. they using biotechno how to speed up a process - cross breeding. marlin edwards is the head of research and development for vegetables. >> we take samples from plants, extract the tna and -- d.n.a. and characterise it to see if it
7:46 pm
has breeders or properties that we are looking for. >> edwards launched the market assisted breeding programme for vegetables and fruits in 2009. what is a genetic marker. >> it is a little stretch of d.n.a. acting as a sign post telling us about what is going on in the genetic neighbourhood in the plan. >> are you manipulating the gene om? >> no, we are diagnosing it. sampling it like a blood test, characterise the sample but never change the plant. >> an important distinction for monsanta, a company that has tape a lot of heat for its genetically engineered commodity crops becoming a sim gore for anti-act visits. >> g.m. is a wonderful way to deliver things. i wish there was more public understanding so we had that whose. by the time you add the
7:47 pm
regulatory cost and time, the economics are not with us today, which is unfortunate. >> paul gets is a plant geneticist at uc davis and receives no funding from monsanta for research. other facultyies do. he thinks monsanta is right to be concerned about the public is acceptance of genetically engineered fruits and vegetables. >> you have direct consumption. resistance, whether it's rite for not may be more important for those crops. >> they like to call the marker technology as one that turns a light on in a laboratory of plant breeding, so we can see what is going on in the plant and select for the properties we need. >> "techknow" knot a look at monsanta's dna marker lad in woodland california. here, hundreds of markers have
7:48 pm
been discovered for traits in fruits and vegetables. the first step in the process - pulverizing tissue samples so d.n.a. can be extracted by the robot. how do you extract d.n.a.? how does that happen? >> thankfully biology made dna water soluble. all we need to do is add water. >> once that has happened it is deposited into a center final, removing plant debris. >> at 3,000 revolutions per minute, it's hard to get rid of the cellular debris from the leaf or chip. the second purification is to put the liquid through a filter, producing a d.n.a. that is a pure, high quality, so we can run a molecular biology test on it. >> it is loaded into the wells. enzymes and other chemicals are added to detect the appearance of specific genes. >> the kneel is to found the one in 1,000 plants that contains all the traits we are interested in. >> the needle in a haystack.
7:49 pm
>> that's right. >> this shows the results on water melon plants. each dot is a plant. green dots indicate plants with a genetic marker for a certain disease resistance that jerome is looking for. this cap take a couple of years off the breeding process. >> we can combine a number of traits. quality, exterior appearance, and it opens a lot of opportunity why is. >> this device shaved more years off the process of building a better vegetable. how? letting researchers figure out whether seed has the right stuff. >> seed chippers slice seed off for d.n.a. analysis. the challenge - cutting the seed without killing the embryo inside. infrared cameras show where the embryo is positioned. and they are fed to the
7:50 pm
computer. looking at the geometry of the seed, and then it has a side, when we turn the seed to a specific orientation. once oriented correctly, it's moved to the blade. every seed and its chip are barcoded and tracked. if it has the rite trace a breeder can plant it. of course, the star of the show is the result of all the technology. coming up, how good are these super vegeies? i got to put them to the ultimate test. >> shall we start or... >> absolutely. >> all right. vé
7:51 pm
7:52 pm
7:53 pm
. one of these plants in the greenhouse may have the right goons for a new-type of -- genes for a new-type of watermelon - not too juicy, but full of flavour. if it does, the scientists will find it. they were part of a team at monsanta, creating a new line of supervegies through old-fashioned cross breeding. after a behind the scenes look at the process, i was earring to try the fruits of their -- eager to try the fruits of their labour. i joined david stark and kenny every, two executives, for lunch. first up peppers, bread to be a third of the size. >> we asked consummers what they liked and don't like in a bell pepper. one thing they don't like is to use part of it. in a lot of times it goes bad. >> the important trait of this one, would you say, is convenience over flavour, for example. >> the flavour is great.
7:54 pm
the convenience makes it unique. it's a trend. fruits and vegetables, you don't have to convince people that they are good for you. you make it easier to eat. >> this is broccoli. >> this was created by cross breeding conventional broccoli with a wild italian cupboard. the wild plant was loaded with a compound boosting antioxidants. >> they react with a free radical, work once and are finished. this compound in the broccoli ipp dueses a system -- induces a system in the body reactivating antioxidants and keeps them working again. >> you think the tech intensive cross breeding approach will become the direction that monsanta goes in. >> it has always been the direction that we have gone in. we were leaders in introducing the first biotech or g.m.o. products in the mid '90s, and
7:55 pm
developing all these tools that help us do traditional breeding smarter and faster. >> i know monsanta has received its fair share of negative publicity. >> right. >> do you feel that this type of approach will in some ways help to remedy some of those image problems? >> i think it will help. i am not sure that by itself it answers all the questions that people have. a number of reasons there has been distrust of the big companies through the years - there's no doubt in my mind we need to be more transparent with people, so they can see who we really are, what we really do, and they can choose. >> a lot of crisis comes from farmers using seeds has to adhere do. is the plan to have the seeds follow in the same line as the others do? >> it's industry standard. we spend a lot of money in r&d
7:56 pm
and we need to generate a return and protect intellectual property. >> paul gets says protecting intellectual property is standard practice and the company should be concerned about it. >> who opens the food and agricultural systems. is it in the hands of a few large companies. there has been a strong concentration in development of new varieties all over the world, not just the u.s. there are a few larger companies accounting for 60 or 70% of new varieties. an important issue that i think our society has not come to grips with is who owns biodiversity. >> for those that think mother nature gets it right, what answer do you have to them. >> nothing we eat is as we found it. it's been modified. improvement intentionally to
7:57 pm
meet our needs. does that mean we should have no concerns, we shouldn't have regulations? no, we need to make sure what we are doing is safe. people need to decide the ethics. i think it's our obligation to improve agriculture, use the knowledge we have help each other. >> this is literally the fruits of monsanta's labour. we get to test it. what are you going to try? >> i want a pepper. >> i want a pepper. >> i did a great test test. it tasted fantastic. >> this is really good. >> i know. monsanta typically doesn't develop or isn't known for developing with consumers, they are developing for retailers, growers and shippers. in this case they are taking a wholistic approach and consumers are at the forefront.
7:58 pm
>> why did they take a shift towards looking at the consumer. >> they are in the business of getting people to eat more fruits and vem tables. they know in order to do that they need to put products on the market that are nutritious and delicious and convenient. that's what they are aiming for. >> you mentioned that monsanta was embroiled in controversy. i'm not even sure if controversy is a strong enough word. there are a lot of consumers that don't trust monsanta. somewhat because of their g.m. technology, and they think there are business practices they don't agree with. do you think this is an attempt to get them on the right side for the consumer? >> they definitely have struggled with pr. this is an attempt to recover some of that, for sure. there's a lot of misconceptions around g.m. the scientific community is yet to discover major health issues with g.m. crops. i agree, the business practices
7:59 pm
are different beast altogether. >> it almost seems the g.m. effect knollingy wept a little far. this is kind of a middle ground. they are using genetic techniques to get good results. they are using the traditional breeding ways. it's amazing how many different stories come out of the field of gep etics. we'll -- genetics. we'll bring you more innovations from the field. >> dive in deep and go behind the scenes at follow contributors on facebook, twitter, google+ and more. is it
8:00 pm
that is al jazeera america. i'm thomas drayton in new york. let's get you caught up on the top stories this hour - freedom for european observers held in ukraine. the crisis there is escalating. demonstrators in washington call on u.s. the do more in relation to the kidnapped ghirls nigeria. world press freedom day. on the trail of a deadly disease that found its way to indiana. and the